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Spanish banking merger in danger: reports

Published on 30/03/2011

Plans to marry four Spanish savings banks and create a new group, Banco Base, are likely to be scrapped Wednesday because of disagreements over money, Spain's press said.

It would be the first broken-off engagement in the savings bank sector since a wave of consolidations in 2010 cut the number of institutions from 45 to just 14.

Three of the partners, Cajastur, Caja Cantabria and Caja Extremadura, would reject the terms of the alliance in meetings Wednesday “unless there is a last-minute surprise,” said the financial daily Expansion.

The fourth partner, Caja de Ahorros de Mediterraneo, would likely vote in favour, it said.

At the heart of the row is a disagreement over Banco Base’s decision to request 2.784 billion euros ($3.92 billion) in public funds as part of a Bank of Spain programme to recapitalise the banking sector.

The central bank had estimated Banco Base, the third-largest savings bank in terms of assets, would require 1.447 billion euros.

But Banco Base was unable to lure private investment and decided to request more public funds “so as to pass the stress tests that the European Banking Authority will carry out next June,” the daily El Pais said.

“This breakup would represent a harsh blow to the merger process because of its enormous size and it could even affect Spain’s credibility on the financial markets,” the paper said.

Spain’s lenders, especially regional savings banks that account for about half of all lending in the country, have been heavily exposed to bad debt since the collapse of the property sector at the end of 2008.

The regional savings banks are expected to request more than seven billion euros in public aid to boost levels of rock-solid core capital on their weakened balance sheets.

The Bank of Spain has estimated the entire banking system requires 15.152 billion euros to recapitalise.

The extra money is required to meet stringent new rules on capital levels introduced by the Spanish authorities so as to regain credibility on world financial markets.

Besides Banco Base, three other savings banks were expected to request public funds to meet all or part of their estimated requirements: Catalunya Caixa, which needs 1.718 billion euros, Novacaixagalicia, which needs 2.622 billion euros, and Unnim, which would need 568 million euros if it fails to find a merger partner.

The Bank of Spain has until April 14 to approve each bank’s refinancing plans.

Spanish banks’ non-performing loans ratio, a key indicator of financial health, jumped from 5.81 percent in December to 6.06 percent in January, the highest since 1995, the Bank of Spain said this month.